LETTER | I’m in! Newcomer’s School Bond Conversion, from Concerns to Support

Dear Snoqualmie Valley,

First of all, I would like to publicly thank school board member, Carolyn Simpson, for taking the time to speak with me personally in order to help me understand the complexity of our district issues. And I would also like to thank the respectful, helpful conversations via Facebook comments, emails, and texts that I’ve had.

There are many in our community, new and old, that take the time to consider both sides of this bond.  No one should be discounted for the time they have lived in the valley or for asking questions and having legitimate concerns. I’m the type of person to naturally question. When voting for such a bond measure, I take raising the school tax seriously as it affects everyone’s pocketbook.

The Truth

We have an awesome, amazing, wonderful valley! I absolutely love living here. We have a fantastic community, wonderful schools, teachers, staff, faculty, PTSAs and a hardworking school board investing countless hours into solving our situation.

I love my schools, FCES, CKMS, and the Freshman Campus. I personally know and have worked with the CKMS and FC faculty. They are a phenomenal staff who have our kid’s best interest at heart and are doing the best they can to support our students despite this time of overcrowding. And I’m sure you can say the same for your schools as well.

We have people who care about and love our community. We have businesses that support and love our community. Our school district is vast. It covers Sammamish, Lake Ames, Carnation to North Bend and even all the way out to the Pass.

The Problem

We all know that because of our growth and our history of bond fails, we are in a dire situation. We have a laundry list the size of Mt. Si that must be tackled. Our growth, while spectacular as it has been and continues to be, is causing our district to burst at the seams – and is felt acutely across our schools district-wide.

Some say there is still too much negativity for one another in the valley and that we can never come together and agree on bond measures. Call me optimistic, but I personally do not believe the animosity between Ridge and Valley is as passionate as it once was. I have friends throughout the district and I know we all care about each other’s kids. When bonds fail, we blame each other – and we shouldn’t.

Because of our rising property taxes, some are naturally opposed to further tax increase. And it’s no surprise! This article details why bonds are failing state-wide. I encourage all to read it.

The school board feels this bond is our best and only option that meets the pressing needs of the district. Costly as it may be, this is our reality, and one that I was quite unsure of at first.

One of my questions was how did the board come up with this figure.  I looked into the cost of high school remodels in neighboring districts. When you look at a cost per student ratio, ours seems slightly high, but when you take into account mandated FEMA codes and contingency funds, the price per student ratio is not far off.  

A $20-$30 million remodel of MSHS is simply not enough to make the high school what it needs to be. Skyline High School was remodeled for $45 million. This was the smallest dollar amount I found in my research and that is not even looking at a current market analysis. So to even consider a remodel near the mentioned figures is pretty unrealistic.

We can speculate that a smaller bond with a necessary elementary school and a middle school and district wide improvements would appeal more to voters. But based on the community’s voice after the 2011 bonds, it is clear that Valley support would be lacking considerably.

We could argue that population has increased since then and we could have more voters that would push and support it, but again, highly speculative and risky.

We don’t have the time to consider other options. Yes, I admit I would love a middle school on the Ridge. but I’ve resigned to the fact, it’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t make sense to build a new middle school when those same funds could be used towards the high school, which benefits everyone in the Valley.

I questioned, like many others, we only have 30 acres when 40-50 acres is needed. It’s like parking an SUV in a compact spot. How can we do this? After speaking with Carolyn, she explained special permits were acquired to make this possible. We will be getting an expertly designed custom build that will make it all work.

What about parking? Currently, we are not in compliance with city regulations when it comes to this issue and it will still be a problem after a rebuild, but we are looking at a relatively small number of parking spaces to accommodate. What about the sports facilities and our sports programs? There are resolutions and plans for expansion there as well.

We are a young Issaquah. Our small town is feeling those same growing pains from years ago. Issaquah High School’s remodeling was completed a few years ago for under 1800 students and its current enrollment is 2100. We can look at high school enrollment trends across east King County and see that growth is coming our way. I’m comfortable with the 2300 projection for the high school. If and when land becomes available surrounding the high school, our district can buy it to use for extra parking lots, and portables if needed.

We can argue over the details of how to view current high school capacity, parking issues, time for action and costs, which I found myself doing, Or we can let those details go realizing that while we speculate future growth, the destiny of our Valley will take its course and we must prepare for it as best we can.

So how do we rally our community behind such a huge bond? Well, for one thing, we must continue discussing and sharing. We need an active questioning community in order to solve problems. And we must discuss in a kind, respectful way.

The last time a bond passed was in 2009, which was a small bond for some portables and repairs. The bond that passed prior to that was in 2003 for Cascade View ES and  Twin Falls MS. 

We are overdue for action. It is time we foot the bill for these district wide needs. The is a great article detailing the reasoning behind how our board came to the bond proposal.

Solution

Sacrifice. We all have to sacrifice in one way or another, whether it be adjusting our budgets and giving up things that we want or both.

By passing this bond our district will receive $20 million state matching funds. We get $3 million in funds for the elementary school and $17 million for the high school. I am confident after speaking with Carolyn, that aside from those state funds, the board will look at other ways to pay down the bond debt.

Our bond also includes contingency funds to ensure that we will stay under budget. I have been assured that those funds used will be spent carefully – with checks and balances in place.

Where should the fight really be? Not between each other, but in pushing our State to give us a tax break so that our communities throughout our state can feel confident saying YES to bond measures that improve schools and growing communities.

Can we get creative and drum up funds elsewhere to ease costs in our classrooms? Can we turn toward the home builders that benefited from selling homes on the Ridge when the impact fees were so low? Can we petition them for donations? Would the City of Snoqualmie ease up on building restrictions so that companies and businesses could bring more tax revenue in for the city? Can we as HOAs sacrifice some community events and donate to our schools and our Snoqualmie Valley School Foundation?

These are all questions we could pursue and I believe as a community we can come together and tackle this feat!

I’M IN!

Jennifer Gibbs, Snoqualmie

INFORSCHOOLS

Comments

  1. home values are tied to the schools

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